HL Deb 20 May 1851 vol 116 cc1160-2

House in Committee.


said, he wished the noble Marquess opposite to afford him some information as to the interpretation to be put upon the clause which had been introduced into this Bill for the purpose of enabling tenant-farmers, whose profits and gains had fallen short of their existing assessment, to obtain an abatement in the amount which they formerly contributed to the tax. The third clause of the Bill provided, that— If at the end of the year of assessment any person occupying land for the purpose of husbandry only, and obtaining his livelihood principally by husbandry, who should be assessed under Schedule B, should prove to the satisfaction of the Commissioners that his profits and gains arising from the occupation of such lands fell short of the sum on which the assessment was made, it should be lawful for him, on appeal made within three months of the expiration of the year, to cause an abatement to be made proportionate to the deficiency of his profits. He (the Earl of Ellenborough) was in the habit of acting as a Property Tax Commissioner, and he wished to call attention to the difficulty which he should experience in giving a property construction to this new clause. It was well known that the ex- penditure of a farmer, and his profit upon that expenditure, did not both occur in the same year. A farmer possessed of capital might not sell his crops at once, but keep them back in order to obtain a higher price; and no doubt in one particular year his money gains might not amount to the sum at which he had been accustomed hitherto to be assessed. Again, a farmer in 1849 and 1850, for example, might by over-cropping have exhausted and injured his land, and he might thereby have made, by anticipation, his profit of the year 1851; but in 1851, in consequence of the ill-usage which the land had suffered, he might not make a profit equal to his assessment. On the other hand, by farming more liberally and more sensibly, he might make a large purchase of manure in 1851, or effect other improvements; but the profit on that expenditure would not be realised till 1852, 1853, or even later; and in 1851, if the whole of his expenditure of the year was balanced against the whole of his receipts, he might appear not to have made enough gains even to pay his rent. In the first year of improvements it might often be the case that the profits made did not equal the amount of the assessment. What were the Commissioners to do in these cases? Were they to endeavour to strike an average for a term of years; or, contrary to all reason, to endeavour to ascertain what was unascertainable, probably, except in extreme cases, namely, whether the profits of a farmer in each particular year were equal to the assessment?


said, that no doubt great difficulties, such as the noble Earl had alluded to, existed in ascertaining what might be fairly set down as the amount of a farmer's profits in any particular year. But these difficulties were incidental in the system of a property and income tax, and could not be altogether obviated. All they could do was to mitigate them as much as possible. It should be borne in mind, however, that such difficulties were not peculiar to the case of the farmer; they were in an equal degree incidental to that of the trader who might lay in a greater stock of goods in one year, and not realise his profit on them until another; and there was the same probability (to put it no higher) of approximate justice being done in the one case as in the other. All that could be done in either case was to strike a balance as fairly as possible between the profits and expenditure of one year as compared with those of another.

Bill reported, without amendment; and to be read 3a on Thursday next.

House adjourned to Thursday next.